In 1987, then Gov. Thomas Kean, pressing for passage of the state school takeover law, called the failure of urban schools “educational child abuse.” On Jan. 22, 2014, the state administration of the Newark schools—now in power for 19 years—kept public schools open in single-digit degree cold and more than 10 inches of snow. But Newark’s charter schools–so obviously favored by state-appointed superintendent Cami Anderson, state Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf, and Gov. Chris Christie–were allowed to close.
I would no longer call what’s happening in Newark educational child abuse. I’d call it just child abuse.
I asked parents and teachers to send me some notes from the field. Here are a few:
From the Early Childhood Center: “There were several classes with no heat today. There were 4 special needs buses who never made it to school, sending teachers and child study team members into a panic trying to find out what happened to those buses and if there were any students in them… The sidewalks were icy and dangerous. (I’m not sure if breakfast is provided on delayed openings but there was no breakfast for the children today).”
From Ann Street: “Ann Street school has not had heat in their school for the past 2 days. They have not even had the consideration of advising the parents. It is way too cold for our children to be in class without heat.”
From Newark Vocational: “Coming to you from Newark Vocational high school a closing school (with no reason why) with half the population special ed. Today’s attendance … is 45 out of 300. Very few students came to Newark Vocational High today. .. two VPs organize activities: in the morning, some students exercised in gym, while others watched movies in auditorium; In the afternoon, the students switched activities. The teachers were asked to shepherd the studies in each activity, with personal time in (empty) classrooms after we completed our shepherding duty. The building is quite cold. But the building is either very cold….or very hot…and much too often WET, as in leaks!”
13th Avenue: “The parking lot at 13th Avenue was not plowed and, since the city streets were not either, parking for staff was very limited. In addition, teachers were forced to pay $5 for wearing jean apparel in these extreme weather conditions and threatened that they would be written up if they did not submit payment… The turnout of students was a total joke and a waste of teacher’s time. We basically spent the day “Babysitting”. There were many teachers and students absent as a result of the storm today. .. 25% attendance amongst the student population.”
Unidentified school: “I had only one child show up today…more than half of the staff called out in my building, including the clerks. It wasn’t a wasteful day on my behalf because I caught up with some work that needed to be done.”
MicKInley: “Student Attendance was about 11%. Sidewalks slick/icy/dangerous as ice re-formed from sub double-digit temperatures and constant walking on snow that blew back on to the cleared surfaces. Curbs not cleared for parking for staff/parents. Snow plows apparently did a quick once through the middle of the street leaving covered curbs and about 5’ of snow from sidewalk to plowed area untouched. Back lot not cleared for bus area; bussed children needed to be dropped off in front of school. Due to poor plowing and bus situation a dangerous, slippery, icy, cold traffic jam occurred when parents tried to drop off their children. “
Avon Academy: “Poor attendance today. We have approximately 625 students and only 250 students showed up (40% or 2 out of every 5 students). While 50% of the staff made it in. “
Unidentified school: “School was at 10% attendance. ..very icy conditions. The streets on all sides of our school were not plowed. The sidewalks of the school were never shoveled. .. Staff attendance was down 10% and subs were not called causing chaos in the hallways. The major streets into Newark were not plowed. Students were complaining about standing at bus stops in freezing cold weather waiting on delayed and backed up buses.”
Not a comprehensive list, I know. But enough to show children—some children–were subjected to horrible conditions while others were not.
I also know many parents exercised good judgment and kept their children home. But public education will pay for that the next time Anderson issues a report about how poor attendance is at the public schools she wants to close and sell to her friends in the charter movement.
Does anyone really believe administrative behavior like this would be tolerated for a nano-second in a community that wasn’t predominantly black and poor? This is apartheid.
The best words I can come up for what happened yesterday come from a very different context. The Army-McCarthy hearings in 1954, when the lawyer Joseph Welch looked at Sen. Joseph McCarthy and said to him what should now be said to the person who made the decision to keep schools open in Newark during a snow emergency when all other schools in Essex County—including Newark’s charters—were closed:
“Have you no sense of decency…? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”